A Brick Too Far

Colorado head coach Jon Embree went “all in” in his debut as Colorado head coach. From the time of his hiring in December, 2010, he pointed toward the Hawai’i game as a game of emphasis.

Rather than shy away from the Buffs’ 18-game road losing streak, Embree embraced it. Embree could have said that the losing streak was the previous administration’s problem, and that his Buffs were unbeaten on the road. Instead, Embree used every interview to acknowledge that, not only was he not displeased with the schedule which forced him to take to the road to face a 10-win team in his first game, but that he was glad that the schedule had worked out that way. “Sept. 3 is the first opportunity. People talk about the schedule (being tough). You know what? I love the schedule,’ said Embree. “I love that we open up on the road so we get a chance to get that off the books and bring the bricks back.”

Embree very publicly made the Hawai’i game a “brick” game, the opportunity to add a brick to the Dal Ward Center wall of great Colorado victories.

The Buff Nation, starved for something positive to cling to, bought in. Colorado, despite a seven game road schedule which some ranked as the toughest in the nation, was going to rise above the mediocrity of the Dan Hawkins’ era. Over 4,500 new season tickets were purchased, the third-highest bump in school history (with the two off-seasons with higher jumps coming after top 5 finishes in the polls the year before).

After waiting for the rest of the nation to get their first tastes of the 2011 college football season, Colorado finally got underway at 8:15 p.m. mountain time Saturday night.

The Buffs were ready to play. The Buff fans were ready for something special.


While the Buffs looked good in their 1990-era road uniforms, it is clear that these are not the Buffs of twenty years ago.

The Colorado offense sputtered for most of the game, failing to create any rhythm, much less any “smash mouth” dominance. Rodney Stewart showed flashes of brilliance, but was limited to 52 yards on 18 carries. Throw in Tyler Hansen’s negative 45 yards rushing due to seven sacks, and Colorado’s signature rushing game produced a grand total of 17 yards rushing. Only Stewart and Hansen every carried the ball, once again demonstrating how heavily the Colorado coaching staff is relying upon Stewart this season (or, to put it another way, demonstrating that there is a significant drop off in talent between Stewart and his backups). “We were off in the first half” said Jon Embree. “I don’t know what that was. I mean, you fumble the snap on the first play of the game. We’ll figure it out. We don’t have any other choice.”

The passing game produced 223 yards and two touchdowns. Respectable numbers – if they had been combined with over 200 yards rushing. Hansen was sacked seven times (the school record is 11, set by Nebraska against the Buffs in 1979), and it did not appear that the Colorado offensive line was being beaten by blitzes and stunts. On most of the sacks, the entire pocket collapsed, with Hansen surrounded by Warriors. True, Hawai’i does have talented defensive players, but this is hardly the best defense Colorado will face this season.

When Hansen did have time to throw the ball, another weakness in the Colorado lineup was exposed. Unless Hansen chooses to dump the ball off to a back, or throw a short pass to a tight end, the Colorado passing game appears to be “Richardson or nothing”. Richardson had three catches for 49 yards and two touchdowns, but either Hansen has no confidence in any other receivers deep, or they just never got open. Again, Buff coaches can count on future opponents taking note – stop Richardson, and you stop the Colorado passing game.

The Buffs’ defense also had its moments, but also showed its weaknesses. Just as it appeared that the coaching staff went “all in” on the running game against Hawai’i – and lost the bet – the game plan against the Hawai’i offense looked to be “stop the deep pass by throwing every possible stunt and blitz” at Warrior quarterback Bryant Moniz. For the most part, the strategy worked. Moniz was held to 178 yards passing – almost half of what he produced in an average game in 2010 – with only two completions going for over 20 yards. Moniz had only one touchdown pass, and was sacked five times.

Mission accomplished?


In selling out to stop the deep pass (and to protect two new starting cornerbacks), the Colorado defense did not account for Moniz and his ability to run with the football. Moniz, who had 102 total rushing yards in all of 2010, had career-highs in both rushing yards (121) and touchdowns (three). The remainder of the Hawai’i running game netted only 44 yards rushing. “I thought the defense played well,” said Embree. “We held them in check throwing the ball, but (Moniz) beat us with his legs.”

Was there anything promising coming out of the 2011 season opener?

Yes, and from an unlikely source.

Colorado, for the first time in school history, started two freshmen at the kicking positions. Punter Darragh O’Neill was forced into seven punting situations, and he fared quite well, coming up with a 44.9 yard average, with four of his punts pinning the Warriors inside their own 20-yard line (last season Zach Grossnickle, in 60 punts, had only 11 kicks finish inside the opponents’ 20-yard line). Kicker Will Oliver was only called upon once during the game for a field goal attempt, but, in a pressure situation (the Buffs down ten in the first minute of the fourth quarter), Oliver delivered on a 34-yard attempt. While the Colorado return game still needs work, there is at least some comfort that Colorado fans can watch special teams play in the near and distant future with some degree of confidence.

Colorado has now lost 19 straight games on the road, with the next two road games – at Ohio State and at Stanford – coming against ranked teams. The streak is likely to continue. The lead-in for the network announcers for each game will continue to focus on the road losing streak.

What matters most, though, is that in a season with difficult games, Colorado fans hoping for a bowl berth come the end of November were counting on the Hawai’i game as a must-win. Instead, after nine months of hoping things had changed, the Buff Nation was treated to more of the same.

‘There is no bright side. I’m not a moral victory kind of guy”, said Embree. “We did not win. That was our goal. We’ve got to end this losing streak on the road. That is the goal right now. We didn’t do that.”

The Colorado coaching staff is laying a foundation with this team. It will be built with character. It will be built with toughness. It will be built on a foundation of players willing to compete.

The building of this team will take time. The foundation is being built brick by brick.

Against Hawai’i, however, the Buffs failed to bring the brick home.



9 Replies to “A Brick Too Far”

  1. My game notes, for what theyr’e worth:
    -Evan Harrington was replaced at FB by Tyler Ahles. Ahles was much more physical in blocking, I noticed he would put his shoulder into people and got low on the defenders repeatedly. Evan’s blocking was not as good to me. Also, Ahles made a first down reception if memory serves.

    -O’Neill and Oliver looked fantastic out there, especially O’Neill.

    -Speedy’s cuts were faster and crisper, at least I thought so. And he was dynamite in open space, the key was getting him around the line. Anyone else LOVE those two enormous screen plays he had?


    -Average yards per kickoff was 68.5, but the net average was only 45.8. Castor needs to kick the ball higher and avoid line drive kicks so the coverage has time to close on the returner. Average per return for Hawaii was 35.5…needs to change fast.

    -Colorado earned 5 sacks on the day. Great pressure package, and most QBs aren’t as fast as Moniz. But I think they should tweak the blitz packages to have P.Mahnke (LB converted from DB) as a QB spy for the harder blitz.

    -Speedy had 4 receptions for 98.

    -Clemons dropped a couple of passes in the middle of the field, and true to his word, Embree replaced him with Tyler McCulloch. Anyone else think McCulloch looked pretty good out there for his first contest? I do.

    -Josh Hartigan looked great out there at JackBacker. They need to keep utilizing him.

    -Greg Henderson looked pretty competent at corner, as did Sandersfeld. There was one play that was a big gainer where he could have easily pulled a late hit, but he did the smart thing and escorted the player out of bounds.

    -The O-Line allowed way too much pressure against Hanson. One of the last sacks illustrates it perfectly; Hanson on the ground underneath a Hawaiian dog-pile while standing in a circle around the pile were all 5 CU O-Linemen. The O-Line needs to step it up and play to their potential or Tyler will get hurt.

    Yes, Colorado lost. Yes, some of the mistakes look like they came out of last year. And, to be honest, we should resign ourselves to the probability that it will take some time to coach those bad habits out of the older players. Yes, CU played poorly and must improve, as I believe they will over time. However, I’d like to point out that the pass defense with 2 NFL draft corners last year couldn’t stop the passing attack as well as they did this year with new corners.

    Finally, the last few years have seen a general lack of 20+ yard plays, but saturday night we saw a 52 yard pass play on a screen. And the average yardage of a completed pass was 13.9. The CU passing stats looked better than last year’s #1 passing offense. That won’t likely continue, but it shows that the offense may have some new-found fire out there.

    Changes take time, tradition building takes time. We should have expected a rocky start no matter who the new coach was to be. Coach Mac was right, Buff Nation must be patient, for now. ~Andy

  2. Can we rehire Hawkins? Absolutely humiliating. We are awful. People are talking about positives? We got caned by Hawaii. We’re a joke.

  3. One word from Stuart above explained it all “THUD”.

    Moments of hope with hours of disappointment. Sturart had moments, Hansen had moments, the D-line had a few moments. Too bad the game is 60 minutes and not just moments.

  4. There is one bright spot that you forgot to mention Stuart. Tyler Hanson held it together last night. Even though he could have been running for his life, he stayed in the pocket and made very smart decisions with the ball. He did not fumble when hit from behind as Cody was infamous for, he even made a point of pulling the ball in and protecting it every time he was sacked. He also threw it out of bounds near a receiver instead of throwing a pick like he has in years past(Remember Cal?) Yes he threw a pic against Hawaii Saturday night but he also made some precision throws including two to Richardson in the endzone, one of those was absolutely amazing. Hats off to Tyler, he really did as good a job as I would have hoped for. If he plays like that all year then there is hope for the leadership of this team.

    Hey?…………….Is anybody taking me seriously about my prediction that we beat down Oregon in the clouds after watching them choke against LSU on Saturday?

    GO BUFFS!!!!!!!!!!

  5. McCartney was interviewed on the CJ and Klatt show early in the summer, and asked Buff fans to be patient. It appears that he knew that we would see games like this (hopefully not too many more).

    There were bright spots, and the freshman looked strong in their roles. While the loss and overall performance was disappointing, we need to support these kids, this program, and these coaches. They will need it as they build the foundation “brick by brick”.

    1. Everybody on this board agree’s with you. It is easy to be an armchair QB but it is not easy watching the same mistakes of the Hawkins era being repeated. Maybe the best players on the team have yet to touch the ball. If Speedy was not working out and Richardson was the only one getting open then maybe it is time to make some changes by inserting the young guys now.

  6. I don’t like the fact that Speedy was the only back to touch the ball. You have to mix it up some and keep the defense guessing. Hopefully they make some adjustments for Cal.

    I do have faith in coach Embree and what he’s trying to build. Go BUFFS!

    1. I totally agree. There was not a back on the bench that could have been beaten down as bad as speedy was. I mean no disrespect to Speedy either. Stopping Speedy was numero uno for Hawaii’s game plan as it will be all season. I am really disappointed in the coaching staff for not putting in a bigger back. I think a few punches in with the fullback and at least ten carries by Josh Ford would have really made a difference. I also think that Jones would have had about the same results as Speedy not because of his size but because of the poor play of the offensive line after David went down with a knee injury, this is why the pocket kept collapsing.

      This game reminded me so much of Cal. As soon as they fumbled the first snap I knew we were screwed.(First game jitters?). The entire first set of scripted plays probably went right out the window after that bad snap.

      Embree should forget about using ‘starters’ Keep mixing and matching until you find the diamond in the rough. Somebody should have called 911 about two minutes into that game. It was obvious that Stewart was gonna get screwed almost immediately. Josh Ford is the next great back for this team, why wait until he is a senior. I guarantee you that he would have not fared worse than Speedy did!

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